|Thursday, 8 August 2002|
Upward trend in tourism after peace process
by Talia Jayasekera
Sri Lanka's tourism industry is taking a slow but upward trend in the wake of the peace process. A change in Government and renewed talks with the LTTE to bring peace to the country after 20 war-ravaged years has brought hope to increase arrivals in a flagging tourist industry.
The industry brought in $ 250 million annually. The Sri Lanka Tourist Board is offering attractive holiday and adventure packages to foreigners and Sri Lankans living abroad. Tour companies, both locally and internationally are working in collaboration with the Tourist Board to expand target markets. It is hoped that return visits can be achieved as well.
The tourism industry slumped sharply with the July attack at the Katunayake International Airport. Tourist figures were high during this period due to the Esala Festivals and it being winter in some countries. Western Europe recorded 203,984 arrivals during 2001, while Asia and Australasia recorded 89,732 and 13,105. Between July and August, with the terrorist attack, these figures dropped drastically. Western Europe tourists fell from 17,079 to 7,795, North America 2,268 to 776 while the Asian figures were marginal - 6,636 to 5,729.
December brought a slight increase due to the Christmas season. The attack not only damaged 100,000 directly employed in the Tourist Industry but also families indirectly dependent on it.
But with peace comes hope. "The Tourist Board is focusing on new markets," said Director General Tissa Warnasuriya, "China, Japan and India are showing improvements in the number of arrivals due to the now concluded "Buy One Get One Free" package".
Asian markets have risen by 15% from January to June this year, though the European markets still remain wary, which has accounted for 60% of the market in the past. Arrivals from China will continue to increase with the signing of the MoU in November by both governments. Indian visitors are offered the added convenience of not having to apply for entry visas; it is given on arrival.
Indian arrivals were recorded at 33,873 between January and July compared to 19,653 in 2001. The Jaffna-Colombo A-9 highway is now open not only to Sri Lankans but foreigners as well. This gives the Board a chance to market even more destinations such as Trincomalee and Nilaveli.
"The most basic problem lies in the foreign media's portrayal of the country, we are actively participating in seminars and conferences to change this image. More people are unaware of Sri Lanka's potential and being the "Number 1 Tourist Destination" in the world. We have familiarisation tours for media personnel from various countries," said Mr. Warnasuriya, who has been with the Board for four years. "Television crews from Japan, India and China have visited the country for documentary and travel programs.
Many such tours are planned for the future." Sri Lanka- A Land Like No Other - the Tourist Board's theme is a much-needed change in perception. Mr. Warnasuriya said that "factors such as the September 11 attack and the overall fear expressed by the world will affect tourism all over, not only in Sri Lanka. It will take a year or so to repair the damage."
The Tourist Board has representatives in Australia, France, Germany, India, Ireland, United Kingdom, USA, Thailand and Japan who actively promote holidays in Sri Lanka. "Adventure packages are gaining popularity, Sri Lanka offers trekking, camping, wildlife and elephant safaris, scuba diving and canoeing, the Director General said.
The Board has introduced more measures such as Tourist Police, only proving its dedication to ensuring the safety of tourists. These branches are in Beruwala, Hikkaduwa, and Polonnaruwa. The Board also has its own website (www.srilankatourism.org) containing a comprehensive guide of the country.
World Tourism Day, which falls on September 27 is a big event for the Tourist Board. The theme "Eco Tourism - The Key to Sustainable Development," will have participating members from the public and private sectors, researchers and executives. "Eco-tourism is a growing area and we have invited local experts as well as a WTO Consultant Philippe Lemaistre to speak at the conference.
The main aim of this seminar is to promote Sri Lanka as an eco-tourist destination", Mr. Warnasuriya said.
Produced by Lake House